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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: How 67 letters found hidden in a wall uncovered a scandal in 1920s Baltimore

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Secret in the walls

stone-heart-with-old-tied-letters-on-wooden-desk File photo of old letters in twine. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

When a woman moved into an old house in Baltimore, she found 67 love letters in a little black box made of tin in the wall. They were 100 years old, all but one were handwritten, addressed to a Mrs. R. A. Spaeth and sent by someone named “R.” 

In this gem, Tim Prudente and Stokely Baksh recount how the mystery surrounding the correspondence was untangled, and the scandal it revealed. 

(Baltimore Banner, approx 12 mins reading time)

In the newsroom, we spread the letters across the table in a small office. Reporters came and went. Everyone wanted to help decipher juicy turn-of-the-century love letters.  Patterns began to appear in the handwriting. He put the tails of his “g’s” on the wrong side, like “p’s.” He used “+” for “and.” What a sweet romance: an esteemed Hopkins scientist, whose research took him away from home, writing love letters back to his wife in Baltimore. Or so it seemed.

“R” emerged as a man consumed by his studies and passions. His emotions poured out in a heady rush of steamy fantasies, jealous accusations, cold indifference. He quoted Kant and worried about money. One letter rambled on for 16 pages. He fixated on someone named “Reu” — who was that? “R” wrote that legal trouble in Philadelphia threatened to ruin him. By 1920, the Spaeths would have been married for seven years and raising a young son. Oddly, there was little mention of routine domestic affairs in the letters to Edith. One letter stood out like a decoder ring. It was typed and dated Aug. 6, 1913, two weeks before the Spaeths’ wedding.

2. The $5 million refunding fraud

Ezra Marcus reports on Matthew Bergwall, a 23-year-old student and talented coder who is accused of running a $5 million retail fraud operation which facilitated nearly 10,000 fake returns.

(Intelligencer, approx 20 mins reading time)

None of Bergwall’s friends at school had a firm grasp of how the sophomore — a self-styled fintech whiz, Marc Andreessen with a zoomer perm — had money for the Tesla he drove or the Gucci he wore or, for that matter, the room in Dubai. But who could care when Bergwall was ordering everyone Ubers and paying for tables at nightclubs and pitching in for yachts on Biscayne Bay? When he had the ear of venture capitalists at networking events in Brickell, Miami’s finance district? Okay, yes, his life had seemingly been enhanced exponentially, improbably, over the past year and a half — but wasn’t everything sort of improbable at UMiami? Wasn’t this the very place where Alix Earle had, by the end of her junior year, gained millions of followers for her “Get Ready With Me” videos? Where fraternity parking lots were filled with Lamborghinis and pledge classes with the children of billionaires who drove them?

3. The saga of Kitty Snows

close-up-of-a-black-cat-lying-on-the-grass-in-the-garden-uk File photo of a black cat. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Kitty Snows was an outside cat who was cared for by residents in Foggy Bottom until she went missing. She now lives at the Watergate complex in Washington DC, but the debate around whether she was cat-napped or rescued is still ongoing. 

(The Washington Post, approx 14 mins reading time)

Over the next 2½ years, Kitty Snows got to know her neighbors, and they got to know her. She began to accept hand-fed treats and gentle pats on the head. She crashed college house parties near the George Washington University campus. She slipped into homes and napped on couches. The Foggy Bottom Association sold her likeness on T-shirts, mugs and trucker hats. In December 2022, she won the association’s Appreciation Award for “community service and the joy she brings to many who cross her path.”

And then, this February, Kitty Snows vanished.

4. Imprisonment for Public Protection

This indefinite prison sentence was scrapped in the UK in 2012, but thousands of people are still on them, with no idea when they will be released. John is one of them. 

(The Guardian, approx mins reading time)

When he was 16, John was arrested for a street robbery or burglary (Daniel can’t remember exactly which; this was almost two decades ago, and so much has happened since). What Daniel does remember is John telling him that he had made a deal with the police. They told him: the more crimes you admit to, the less time we’ll give you. They had a list of crimes that had happened in the area, and John went through them. He told Daniel later that out of the ones he had admitted to, four were genuine. The rest – there were dozens – were all crimes he hadn’t done. It seemed like a good deal at the time.

When John got out, he didn’t talk much about his time in the young offender institution, but Daniel thought he seemed different. He was a lot bigger; he’d gone to the gym a lot inside. He also had this attitude that he hadn’t had before. From his own experience inside, Daniel knew that prison required you to constantly protect yourself. It soured you.

5. Klopp’s Liverpool

a-fan-poses-for-photos-next-to-a-mural-with-the-image-of-liverpools-manager-jurgen-klopp-prior-to-the-english-premier-league-soccer-match-between-liverpool-and-tottenham-hotspur-at-anfield-stadium-in A fan poses for photos next to a mural with the image of Jurgen Klopp prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield Stadium. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

As today marks the final day of this year’s Premier League season, it is also Jürgen Klopp’s last day as manager of Liverpool Football Club. In this piece, Simon Hughes speaks to people on Merseyside about his impact on the club and the region. 

(The Athletic, approx 11 mins reading time)

Many managers claim to have a bond with their club, to understand its people and practices; listen to the fans Klopp encountered over his nine years in charge and it is clear that with him, it felt real. “People laugh at the whole turning doubters into believers thing, but it’s true,” Kearney says, referencing the most famous line Klopp uttered at his inaugural press conference in October 2015.

Kearney remembers Borussia Dortmund’s incredible victory over Malaga in the Champions League in 2013, when they scored twice in stoppage time to progress to the semi-finals, and telling himself Klopp would be good for Liverpool. Under his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool had lost 3-0 at home to Real Madrid with three first-half goals, when, according to Kearney, “the attitude was, ‘What can you do, it’s Real Madrid?’.” He continues: “Under Klopp, there has never been a sense of that. Instead, the attitude has been, ‘I don’t care who you are, you’re on our pitch and we’ll try and beat you, whoever you are’.”

6. The women guarding the Amazon

Gabriela Barzallo writes about the Ecuadorian, all-female patrol group protecting their community’s land in the Amazon Rainforest.

(BBC, approx 10 mins reading time)

The group goes by the name of “Yuturi Warmi”. Elsie Alvarado, one of the youngest members of the Yuturi Warmi, explains that in the Kichwa language “Yuturi” references a type of ant in the Amazon known for its strong and defensive nature, and “Warmi” means woman. “We chose this name for the group because it symbolises our fight and strength, much like the ants that resist and protect their territory,” she says.

The Yuturi Warmi steadfastly monitor the threat of mining activities on their community of 154 members by patrolling a large area of land, which the women estimate is between three sq miles (7.8 sq km) and 3.9 sq miles (10 sq km). Despite there being metal contamination reported up and downstream, the women say their patch of land – and river – has remained pristine. “The waters of Serena remain pure, allowing us to fish native species like catachamas and bocachicas that thrive in these untainted waters,” says Andy.


ken-12th-may-2020-los-rinocerontes-najin-y-fatu-los-dos-ultimos-rinocerontes-blancos-del-norte-que-quedan-en-el-mundo-son-custodiados-por-guardabosques-dia-y-noche-en-la-reserva-de-ol-pejeta-en Najin and Fatu. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A piece from 2021 on the last two northern white rhinos on earth, Najin and Fatu.

(The New York Times, approx 35 mins reading time)

The day Sudan died, everything felt both monumental and ordinary. It was a Monday. Gray sky, light rain. On the horizon, the sun was struggling to make itself seen over the sharp double peaks of Mount Kenya. Little black-faced monkeys came skittering in over the fence to try to steal the morning carrots. Metal gates creaked and clanked. Men spoke in quiet Swahili. Sudan lay still in the dirt, thick legs folded under him, huge head tilted like a capsizing ship. His big front horn was blunt, scarred, worn. His breathing was harsh and ragged. All around him, for miles in every direction, the savannah teemed with life: warthogs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, baboons — creatures doing what they had been doing for eons, hunting and feeding and scavenging, breathing and going and being. Until recently, Sudan had been a part of this pulse. But now he could hardly move. He was a giant stillness at the center of all the motion.

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